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East End residents urged to protest disputed helicopter route

The FAA's decision to keep a controversial helicopter

The FAA's decision to keep a controversial helicopter route along the North Shore active until August 2020 has upset East End residents and politicians who want the route altered.

East End residents and activists angry over the Federal Aviation Administration’s four-year extension of a controversial North Shore helicopter route are being urged by some elected officials to protest the decision.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), along with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, met Monday morning with FAA officials at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, and later held a news conference at Riverhead Town Hall to discuss the route, which has been extended to summer 2020.

Walter said at the news conference that it was out of the ordinary for a public official to recommend public protests, but that he was suggesting it as a way for opponents to get the attention needed to fight the extension.

The FAA made the route mandatory in 2012 in an effort to address reesidents’ complaints over the noise from thousands of helicopters passing between Manhattan and the Hamptons during the summer months. Helicopter pilots must pass over Long Island Sound about a mile offshore until they reach the North Fork, when they cross over land until they reach destinations on the South Fork. They follow a similar route in the opposite direction.

The FAA said in its July 25 ruling that it found the extension necessary to allow the agency to conduct studies that would help decide future actions.

“The purpose of the study is to gather data on helicopter noise to inform a final route that works for the residents of Long Island and is responsive to the concerns the FAA has heard from the public,” the agency said in a statement Monday, adding that it has received correspondence from the offices of Zeldin and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “indicating their preference for over-water routes.”

But Zeldin faulted the agency, noting that it did not hold a required public hearing and that he and other officials only learned about it days before the decision was announced.

“The FAA quietly announced the four-year extension against the will of the people,” Zeldin said, characterizing it as the “unacceptable arrogance” of bureaucrats. “They violated the public comment provisions of various laws.”

Officials also said that at the airport meeting an FAA representative said the decision to extend the route was made under “political pressure.” Zeldin said there were about a dozen FAA representatives there.

“We urged the FAA to mandate that the North Shore route extend past and around Orient Point and for the hold to be lifted on creating a mandatory South Shore route,” he said.

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